Human destinies: Heaven
Christianity provides the most comforting and comprehensive way of life which addresses the fundamental aspects of human life. Some of the major questions we ask are: Where do we come from? It’s a question of human origin. The Bible says that God created humanity in the beginning. Who are we? It’s a question of human identity. Christians are children of God. What is the meaning of life? Why are we here and what is the purpose of human existence on earth? It’s a question of human purpose. Where are we heading? And where are we going? It’s a question of human destiny. Christianity doesn’t only provide a reasonable answer to these questions for believers alone, but it addresses every human being. Is this post we look at the last topic: Where are we going? What is our destiny? This blogpost is a summary of a presentation on this topic by Dr. Xavier Lakshmanan.
Heaven and hell
It’s very important for us to understand that the question of human destiny is based upon the question of the Jesus’ identity. Who Jesus is and what He is doing for us is determining human destinies. If someone believes in Jesus and His sacrificial death for human sin, then their destiny is fixed with Him. But if someone doesn’t believe in Jesus and His death for human sin and for the destiny of the world, then that person’s destiny is fixed without Christ for the whole of eternity. So Jesus is the decisive person here and now. The choice we make here in relation to Jesus and in relation to the good news (gospel message) in Scripture is going to decide our future destiny.
What does the Bible generally say about the destiny of human life? In this post, we will not look at what happens immediately after death or future events such as the tribulation or the millennial reign of Christ. But we are going to focus on the final destiny of human life. The Bible says that “people are destined to die once, and after that to face judgment” (Heb. 9:27NIV). So death is certain. It’s like we all have a terminal disease. Some will die early and some will die later, but we will all die. This is a consequence of Adam’s rebellion against God. And after death there is judgement. There are various kinds of judgements described in the Bible. But God’s final judgement is going to divide everyone who ever lived from Adam down to the end of time into two groups. “Then they [unbelievers] will go away to eternal punishment, but the righteous [believers] to eternal life” (Mt. 25:46). The first group is unbelievers (who don’t trust in Jesus Christ) who face eternal punishment (hell). And the other group are believers saved by grace through faith in Jesus Christ, who face eternal life (heaven). This post describes heaven, and the next one describes hell.
The Bible addresses human need, but not human curiosity. For example, it doesn’t tell us what Lazarus experienced after death. The Bible is like a love letter from a Father to His children saying that I am in control, trust me as we pass from death to eternity. We are excited about heaven. But heaven isn’t a surprise. Instead it is an outcome of all the decisions and the choices we make today. A small, simple, clear decision and encounter with Jesus we make is going to decide that destiny.
What is heaven?
According to the Bible, heaven is where Jesus is. It’s a place that God promised to prepare for us where there is no sin, no disease and no death. But is heaven going to be a place? It can be a spiritual place. We understand things through comparison, and analysis, and verification, and through examples. We don’t have realities in this world to compare with the heavenly. But we have symbols to express these realities like parables, similes and metaphors, which are the language we use to speak about the eternal and the heavenly and things that we do not know but are revealed in the Bible.
The word “heaven” is used in the Bible for three main purposes. It’s meaning in a particular passage is determined by the context. It’s “shamayim” in the Old Testament Hebrew language and “ouranos” in the New Testament Greek language. It is used for the atmosphere (sky), the universe (stars and galaxies) and the abode of God (the third heaven). In this post we are looking at the third meaning of heaven. The Bible says that this heaven is:
It’s a spiritual home. A place of God’s being. When Jesus was teaching His disciples to pray, He said “This, then, is how you should pray: ‘Our Father in heaven …’” (Mt. 6:9). So, heaven is a place where God is. It’s God’s home. And in the Bible the word heaven is synonymous with God Himself. And Jesus told them, “My Father’s house has many rooms” (Jn. 14:2). So, heaven is our Father’s home.
The believer’s promised home
Jesus told His disciples “My Father’s house has many rooms; if that were not so, would I have told you that I am going there to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am” (Jn. 14:2-3). So heaven is also a place for believers. Jesus promised to return and take believers to be with Him in heaven. What a great promise to encourage us when we face the pain, struggles, tears, weakness, and challenges of life.
The believer’s citizenship
Paul told the Christians in Philippi, “But our citizenship is in heaven. And we eagerly await a Savior from there, the Lord Jesus Christ, who, by the power that enables Him to bring everything under His control, will transform our lowly bodies so that they will be like His glorious body” (Phil. 3:20-21). We are travelers and sojourners here. Our life is very short. It’s temporary. The brevity of life is going to give way to the permanent citizenship of heaven. Are we happy to be a permanent citizen of heaven? Mortality will be swallowed up in immortality. Corruptibility will be swallowed up in incorruptibility. And the temporal will be swallowed up in the eternal. Are we waiting for these joys of heaven?
The believer’s eternal home
After Paul described the rapture of the dead, he said “After that, we who are still alive and are left will be caught up together with them [resurrected believers] in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. And so we [all believers] will be with the Lord forever” (1 Th. 4:17). At the rapture all believers will leave the earth to live with the Lord. It will be an endless life in heaven. It’s a great destiny which is described in the Bible as follows.
A place of inheritance
An inheritance is kept in heaven for those who trust in Jesus. Peter writes, “Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! In His great mercy He has given us [believers] new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, and into an inheritance that can never perish, spoil or fade. This inheritance is kept in heaven for you [believers], who through faith are shielded by God’s power until the coming of the salvation that is ready to be revealed in the last time “ (1 Pt. 1:3-5). Its been said that “he is not a fool who gives away what he cannot keep for the sake of what he cannot lose”. Believers are not fools. They give up the perishable things of this world to secure, gain and keep forever the imperishable things to come. It’s an eternal inheritance. In heaven, God will deliver all believers from the presence of evil and sin.
A place of hope
Paul often thanks God for the faithfulness of His people, “we have heard of your faith in Christ Jesus and of the love you have for all God’s people—the faith and love that spring from the hope stored up for you in heaven” (Col. 1:4-5). This hope is not a virtue or an attribute. Jesus Christ is our hope: “Christ in you, the hope of glory” (Col. 1:27). It’s the assurance of eternal life in heaven (Tit. 1:2). Jesus Christ is returning to take His followers to be with Him. Are we ready to meet Him with confidence?
A place of God’s presence
A passage about the eternal state says, “God’s dwelling place is now among the people, and He will dwell with them” (Rev. 21:3).
A place of perfection
John wrote, “now we [believers] are children of God, and what we will be has not yet been made known. But we know that when Christ appears, we shall be like Him, for we shall see Him as He is” (1 Jn. 3:2). They will not become gods or semi-gods. But they will be like Jesus in His risen body. In His resurrected glory. Christlikeness is their destiny.
A place of joy
A passage about the eternal state says, “‘He [God] will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death’ or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away” (Rev. 21:4). Everything will be new. No more suffering or physical ailments.
A place of glory
A passage about the eternal state says, “The city does not need the sun or the moon to shine on it, for the glory of God gives it light, and the Lamb is its lamp” (Rev. 21:23). God provided light so that the Israelites could travel by night (Ex. 13:21-22). But this eternal light will be more glorious than that. We can’t imagine what it will be like. There will be no time, space or mass.
A place of resting
Believers are promised eternal rest. “There remains, then, a Sabbath-rest for the people of God; for anyone who enters God’s rest also rests from their works, just as God did from His. Let us, therefore, make every effort to enter that rest, so that no one will perish by following their example of disobedience” (Heb. 4:9-11). What a great prospect for those who live in a restless world.
A place of worshipping and serving
But what are believers going to do in heaven? There will be plenty to do. There is worship. In this passage three groups of people are worshipping God 24/7. They are the multitude of believers, the 24 elders and the four living creatures. And the elders, “lay their crowns before the throne”, showing that God alone is worthy of praise and worship (Rev. 4:10).
In a coming time when God defeats those who persecute His people, there will be praise and worship in heaven. “After this I heard what sounded like the roar of a great multitude in heaven shouting: “Hallelujah [Praise the Lord]! Salvation and glory and power belong to our God, for true and just are His judgments. He has condemned the great prostitute who corrupted the earth by her adulteries. He has avenged on her the blood of his servants.” And again they shouted: “Hallelujah! The smoke from her goes up for ever and ever.” The twenty-four elders and the four living creatures fell down and worshiped God, who was seated on the throne. And they cried: “Amen, Hallelujah!” Then a voice came from the throne, saying: “Praise our God, all you His servants, you who fear Him, both great and small!” Then I heard what sounded like a great multitude, like the roar of rushing waters and like loud peals of thunder, shouting: “Hallelujah! For our Lord God Almighty reigns. Let us rejoice and be glad and give Him glory! For the wedding of the Lamb [Jesus] has come, and His bride [believers] has made herself ready” (Rev. 19:1-7).
A place of fellowship and celebration
In contrast to the law of Moses [the old covenant], the new covenant is described as, “But you have come to Mount Zion, to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem. You have come to thousands upon thousands of angels in joyful assembly, to the church of the firstborn, whose names are written in heaven. You have come to God, the Judge of all, to the spirits of the righteous made perfect, to Jesus the mediator of a new covenant, and to the sprinkled blood that speaks a better word than the blood of Abel” (Heb. 12:22-24). Believers are not alone in heaven. They are with a crowd of angels and human beings who are resurrected, restored, and enjoying the presence of God in celebration. Heaven is a place of celebration and joy and fellowship with God. Are you excited? Live up to that. Then one day Jesus will call, “Come on! I’m ready. Come out of your graves! Come out of your bodies, and pain and tears and suffering. Servants of God, who have put their trust in Jesus. Come home. Enjoy your rest”. May God keep us focused on the fellowship and celebration of eternal glory. May we cherish the eternal heaven of God which is our home, promised for us forever and ever.
Heaven is our destiny if we trust in the death of Christ on the cross to forgive our sins. It’s God’s home, the believer’s promised eternal home, and the believer’s citizenship. It’s a place of eternal inheritance, hope, God’s presence, perfection, joy, glory, resting, worshipping and serving, and fellowship and celebration.
Let’s not forget our faith or our journey with Jesus. And never lose the enjoyment of God in our life because that’s what’s going to keep us going until we reach our heavenly home.
Acknowledgement: This blogpost was sourced from a presentation by Dr. Xavier Lakshmanan on this topic. Dr. Lakshmanan is Head of Theology in the Australian College of Christian Studies.
Written, October 2018
Also see: Heaven and hell: What is heaven like?
What are the new heaven and new earth like?
True Christmas: Sacrifice and Celebration
At a birthday party we celebrate a person’s life. But what if a person isn’t mentioned at their birthday party? That would be embarrassing! Christmas can be like that, because Christmas is when our culture chooses to remember the birth of Jesus Christ, but not everyone does this.
We usually celebrate Christmas with family and friends. But I was reminded recently that Christmas is not only a time of celebration. It also involves a lot of sacrifice; because it took sacrifices to get Christ here into this world. A sacrifice is something that’s given up willingly (forfeited or surrendered) for the sake of a better cause. This blogpost is a summary of a presentation on this topic by Dr. Xavier Lakshmanan.
Christmas is not just holidays, or food, or drinks, or decorations, or Santa Claus or gifts, or greetings. That’s the celebrative part of Christmas, which is an outcome of the real Christmas. But celebrating without recognizing the birthday person (Jesus Christ) is embarrassing and tragic.
The first Christmas
There was a great celebration that first Christmas. When the shepherds were told the good news about the baby Jesus, the angels praised God, “Glory to God in the highest heaven” (Lk. 2:14-18NIV). And the shepherds were very excited when they saw the baby Jesus.
But what about Mary’s family? Because of their shame, they probably weren’t celebrating. Her pregnancy would have been known in their local community. But no-one would have believed that she was carrying a holy baby. Like everyone else, her family would have thought she was carrying an illegitimate child, which brought shame and disgrace on the family and into the community. Even her fiancé (Joseph) planned to divorce her quietly (Mt. 1:18-25). But he changed his mind when an angel told him that Jesus was indeed a holy baby.
Did God celebrate at the first Christmas? Probably not. That was when God gave His Son to the world as a human being to stand forever with people who were sinners. So behind the scenes there is a sacrificial aspect to the first Christmas.
Christmas was God’s idea
Jesus taught Nicodemus, “For God so loved the world that He gave His one and only Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish but have eternal life” (Jn. 3:16). There are four things in this verse: God’s love, God giving, an invitation to believe, and an invitation to live. The first two and the last two are linked together. God so loved that He gave. For God, to love means to give. And He gave the best He could give. That is Himself. And then He says “whoever believes”. Nicodemus is urged to believe that Jesus is the Son of God in order to have eternal life instead perishing. Giving is always sacrificial, while receiving (in this case, believing to receive eternal life) is a reason to celebrate.
At Christmas we remember that God gave Himself, which is a sacrifice. Sending Jesus to earth was God’s idea. In this sense, God invented Christmas. And when we receive God’s gift (of forgiveness, love, joy, peace, and eternal life through Jesus), that’s a reason for celebration. Let’s look at four things that God sacrificed on the first Christmas so that we can celebrate.
The sacrifice of God’s glory
On the night before He was executed, Jesus prayed to God the Father, “And now, Father, glorify me in your presence with the glory I had with you before the world began” (Jn. 17:5). Before Christ came into the world, He lived in heaven with God the Father. He had the glory and splendor of deity. But on the first Christmas Jesus veiled His glory. Instead of being visible, it was hidden (or veiled). In John 17 Jesus is praying that His visible glory might be restored in heaven.
Paul explains why Jesus sacrificed His glory, “What if He did this to make the riches of His glory known to the objects of His mercy, whom He prepared in advance for glory – even us, whom He also called, not only from the Jews but also from the Gentiles?” (Rom. 9:23-24). God is preparing some people for glory. Jesus had to sacrifice His glory at the first Christmas so that we can regain our glory (which was lost by Adam and Eve in the garden of Eden) by trusting in Jesus Christ.
On the first Christmas, God not only sacrificed His glory; He also sacrificed His riches.
The sacrifice of God’s riches
Paul said that Jesus was the greatest example of generosity: “For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though He was rich, yet for your sake He became poor, so that you through His poverty might become rich” (2 Cor. 8:9). Jesus was enormously rich because He was God. But at the first Christmas, He became poor. So He went from wealth to poverty. Jesus gave up everything so poor sinners like us who were under God’s judgment can become rich in Him. We are rich “in Christ”. This has been expressed in verse as:
Let the weak say “I am strong”,
Let the poor say “I am rich”,
Let the blind say “I can see”,
Because of what the Lord has done in me.
We can’t understand Christmas without reference to the crucifixion and the resurrection, because the incarnation (Christ’s birth) became a saving event through the crucifixion.
On the first Christmas, God not only sacrificed His glory and His riches; He also sacrificed His position.
The sacrifice of God’s position
Paul said that Jesus was the greatest example of humility: “Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be used to His own advantage; rather, He made Himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to death—even death on a cross!” (Phil. 2:6-8)
God is a spirit who is immortal, eternal, and beyond our world of time, space, mass, and energy. But on the first Christmas, Jesus gave up His positional equality with God the Father when He became a human being. The all-powerful Creator of the universe transformed into a servant. A dependent baby. In this way, His divinity was hidden (or veiled).
On the first Christmas, God not only sacrificed His glory and His riches and His position; He also sacrificed His life.
The sacrifice of God’s life
Jesus said, “I lay down my life for the sheep” (Jn. 10:15) and “For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life as a ransom for many” (Mk. 10:45).
When Jesus came as a baby the first Christmas, He came to sacrifice His life. So Christmas cost God’s life. Why? So that we may have His life. Jesus said “I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full” (Jn. 10:10). The “life” referred to here is spiritual life. This life is given by God upon trust in Jesus Christ (Jn. 5:39-40; 1 Jn. 5:11-12). Because we have spiritual life, we can celebrate at Christmas by celebrating Jesus who is the source of spiritual life. Christmas is a time to encounter this life in Christ Jesus. As we saw in John 3:16, He loved to give, and we believe to live (spiritually). But if we are spiritually dead, our Christmas is meaningless.
True Christmas is not just a time of celebration. It involves much more than celebration. Christmas is a time to:
– Reflect on God’s sacrifice (what He has done for us),
– Recognize Jesus our Savior,
– Reconnect with Christ (God’s Christmas gift to us), and
Let’s celebrate Christmas meaningfully by remembering God’s sacrifices. Christmas is a sacrifice and celebration of God’s glory. Christmas is a sacrifice and celebration of God’s riches. Christmas is a sacrifice and celebration of God’s position. Christmas is a sacrifice and celebration of God’s life. And let’s be willing to sacrifice for others just as God sacrificed for us.
Acknowledgement: This blogpost was sourced from a presentation by Dr. Xavier Lakshmanan on “True Christmas: Sacrifice and Celebration”. Dr. Lakshmanan is Head of Theology in the Australian College of Christian Studies.
Written, December 2016. Edited, January 2023.
What does God want us to remember?
At the “real” start of the third millennium
This is the first month of a new year and of a new millennium. As the first year was 1 A.D., so 1000 A.D. was the last year of the first millennium. Likewise, the last year of the second millennium was 2000 A.D., which means that 2001 is the first year of the third millennium. So the celebrations that were held twelve months ago should have been called the beginning of the 2000s, not the beginning of the third millennium, which actually begins this month.
Although one day, month or year is not necessarily more important than another (Rom. 14:5), we all like to celebrate important dates such as birthdays and wedding anniversaries. These are milestones that remind us of significant events along the road of life. Let’s look at some important events that God wants us to remember and celebrate.
Remember the Creator
After the universe was created in six days the Bible says, “By the seventh day God had finished the work He had been doing; so on the seventh day He rested from all His work. And God blessed the seventh day and made it holy, because on it He rested from all the work of creating that He had done” (Gen 2:2-3 NIV). This is not the rest that follows weariness, but the rest of satisfaction and completion of a job well done (Gen. 1:31).
The Sabbath was to be observed by the Israelites as a day of rest from everyday work, as a reminder of their God who rested after His work of creation (Ex. 31:14-17). The principle of one day’s rest in seven was established in Old Testament times for the benefit of individuals, families, employees and even animals (Ex. 20:10; Mk. 2:27). Its establishment in the account of creation implies that it is meant for everyone, not just for Israel.
It is said that God “blessed the seventh day and made it holy” (Gen. 2:3; Ex. 20:11). This indicates two purposes for the Sabbath rest –as a gift (or blessing) from God for the well-being of humanity, and a special (or holy) day for God. Besides physical rest, it also means remembering the Creator and praising God for His provision for us. He had given us life and time, and on this day we are to give some time back to Him.
So, the Sabbath rest is God’s milestone pointing out His goodness to everyone as their Creator as we pause for a regular weekly break from work. Remember, the wisest man that ever lived said, “Remember your Creator in the days of your youth” (Eccl. 12:1). Creation reveals the Creator’s eternal power and divine nature .(Rom. 1:20). But this is less evident when life becomes more troublesome and less enjoyable. Unfortunately, those who reject this revelation, choose to worship idols instead of “the God who made the world and everything in it” (Rom. 1:23,25; Acts 17:24).
Remember the Redeemer
The Israelites were given a second reason for observing the Sabbath day: “Remember that you were slaves in Egypt and that the LORD your God brought you out of there with a mighty hand and an outstretched arm” (Dt. 5:15). It was a weekly reminder of their miraculous deliverance from slavery in Egypt. This act of God is called “redemption,” which means “buying back” or “ransoming from captivity.” Christ was a “redeemer” in that by His sacrificial death He paid the ransom for our sinfulness and so delivered us from slavery to sin and its penalty (Eph. 1:7).
So, the Sabbath is also God’s milestone pointing out His mercy toward His chosen people as their redeemer. As the Sabbath rest included employees, the Israelites were to show a loving concern to others (Dt. 5:14). This was confirmed when Christ healed the man with a shrivelled hand on the Sabbath (Mk. 3:1-5).
Jesus said that He was Lord of the Sabbath and demonstrated this as the Redeemer of the world (Mt. 12:8; Lk. 4:16-21). The Sabbath was “a shadow of the things that were to come; the reality, however, is found in. Christ” (Col. 2:17). After the day of Pentecost, it was more important to remember God’s great salvation for mankind’s sins than to remember the deliverance of the Jews from Egypt. Consequently, the early Christians met for worship and the collection of monetary gifts on the first day of the week in memory of Christ’s resurrection (Acts 20:7; 1 Cor. 16:1-2). Christian worship on Sunday replaced Jewish observance of the Sabbath. It is interesting to note that according to Leviticus 23:15, the day of Pentecost (Acts. 2:1) may have been on the first day of the week. However, some authorities state that the Pharisees believed that the Sabbath referred to here is the holy day of Passover which fell on a different day each year.
The Jews also celebrated their release from slavery in the first month of each year. As God’s people in Old Testament times, they were given a series of annual religious festivals by God. These festivals commemorated occasions when God had reached out in power to intervene for the Jews or had provided for them in a time of distress. It reminded them of God’s presence and activity among them.
The first and most important of the festivals was the Passover, which was celebrated in the first month of the religious year (Ex. 12:1-30; Lev. 23:4-8). The Hebrew calendar is based on the 29.5 day lunar cycle. Their first month commenced after the spring equinox and is equivalent to March/April inour calendar. As their months began at new moon and the Passover began on the fourteenth of the month, the Passover corresponded with a full moon. Easter is its direct equivalent in our calendar, being the Sunday after the first full moon on/after March 21.
The Passover corresponded with the beginning of the grain harvest (Dt. 16:9) and it commemorated the deliverance and exodus of the Jews from slavery in Egypt during the reign of Pharaoh Neferhotep 1 (Ex. 12). This was achieved in a miraculous way through the death of a lamb and smearing the lamb’s blood on their door frames. The plague of death to all the first-born sons in Egypt “passed over” the Jewish households with the sign on the door frames. Soon afterwards the Egyptians urged the Jews to leave their country.
Like the Sabbath, these religious festivals were said to be “a shadow of the things that were to come; the reality, however, is found in Christ” (Col. 2:17). Paul referred to Christ as “our Passover Lamb” (1 Cor. 5:7). So the Passover was an illustration of Christ’s sacrifice for us. As the death of the Passover lamb saved the Jews from death, so Christ’s death can save us from the punishment of eternal death in hell. The similarity is emphasized by the fact that Jesus was crucified at the time of the Passover celebration (Jn. 18:28; 19:14).
When Jesus Christ celebrated the Passover with His disciples, He instituted the Lord’s Supper by relating the breaking of bread and the drinking of wine to His coming death (Lk. 22:7-20). His followers were told to do this in His remembrance (1 Cor. 11:2326). Believers are told, “Whenever you eat this bread and drink this cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until He comes” (1 Cor. 11:26). So, the annual Passover was replaced by the weekly Lord’s Supper (Acts 20:7).
Now and forever
It’s obvious that God wants us to remember and celebrate His great achievements in creation and redemption. This can be done by a regular weekly break from work and by a regular partaking of the Lord’s Supper. These are two of the most important things we can do this week, month, year and millennium –and they will refresh us physically and spiritually.
Such celebrations are not only for now but are for eternity, as the role of God the Father and the Lord as Creator and Redeemer is the theme of the great future celebration in heaven: “You are worthy, our Lord and God, to receive glory and honor and power, for You created all things, and by Your will they were created and have their being … You are worthy to take the scroll and to open its seals, because You were slain, and with Your blood You purchased men for God from every tribe and language and people and nation” (Rev 4:11; 5:9).
Published, January 2001